Jun 14, 2010

Found: A Jewish Reflection on Lost

Found: A Jewish Reflection on Lost
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

The French novelist Marcel Proust suggested that "the voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."  Nothing could better describe the television series "Lost" created by Damon Lindelof, J. J. Abrams and Jeffrey Lieber.  Through six years of creation and encounter, revolution and revelation, the characters of Lost discovered not only the secrets of a mysterious island, but an unfolding of life before their eyes.  With every disclosure of a previous encounter between characters whose only explicit connection was a doomed flight from Sydney, what became obvious was the truth of Rabbi Lawrence Kushner's notion of the "interconnectedness of all being," that swims in "an Ocean of God."  The difference between counting the waves and entering the glorious, glowing, unified whole is a matter of perception, of choosing to open (or close) your eyes.

Central, recurring experiences in Lost were expressions of central Jewish teaching: The facial expressions of the central characters of Lost at moments of awakening, of sudden awareness, were reminiscent of Emanuel Levinas' teaching that "Expression, or the face, overflows images."  The final season was the embodiment of the deep Jewish convictions that death is not forever and that every day should be lived as if it is your last.  

And the question of a purposeful life couldn't have been more alive throughout the series.  As Dr. Michael Berger has written, "Implicit in the notion of an intentional religious life is the assertion that religion makes claims upon us to which we must respond, that ...Judaism is able to teach us, challenge us, inspire us and elevate us—not just to affirm us. Admittedly, this may be at odds with our contemporary therapeutic American culture, where relevance to one's own needs and aspirations is often the basis for significance. But ...an intentional community is defined by some notion of ...disciplined performance with the promise of a higher, richer, more meaningful life."  In other words, the pursuit of meaning begins with the prioritization of higher meaning over personal need, with the embrace of the notion of a calling, of dharma, of duty.

But, most of all, it was by entering the eyes of the characters that the viewer experienced hints of redemption.  As Levinas taught, "the face the Other expresses his eminence, the dimension of height and divinity from which he descends."  The wonder of the universe experienced by each of the show's characters through the unfolding liminality of a mysterious island was, and remains, an opportunity for us to explore our own universes, wondering what it is that our eyes actually see.

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Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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